Complaints in the time of COVID-19 at the Ontario College of Pharmacists

During the global health situation involving novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have had to deal with unique considerations. Despite pharmacists’ and pharmacy technicians’ best efforts, this is a stressful time for all, and it is likely that some patients will make complaints that relate to or are inspired by the circumstances of COVID-19. Even as society continues to emerge from a state of crisis, this situation will still present the potential for a variety of new complaints against pharmacists and pharmacy technicians at the Ontario College of Pharmacists (“OCP”).

Potential concerns may include the following:

Temporary pharmacy closures

In cases in which a pharmacy is or was closed due to staff shortages, illness, or other circumstances, pharmacy operators are still required to provide continuity of care to their patients. It is possible that some pharmacists may be subject to complaints alleging that they did not provide patients with access to their records or with information on how to access their medications.

Infection prevention and control (“IPAC”) and personal protective equipment (“PPE”)

Complaints may arise alleging that pharmacists or pharmacy technicians did not properly use PPE. Despite all precautions and proper uses of personal protective equipment, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians working during the COVID-19 pandemic have faced greater risks than much of the general public. Whether accurate or not, patients may potentially complain that they contracted COVID-19 from a pharmacist or pharmacy technician.

All pharmacists who form an opinion that a patient has or potentially may have COVID-19 are required under the Health Promotion and Protection Act to report this information as soon as possible to their region’s public health unit or medical officer of health. Members of the public could potentially allege that pharmacists did not properly report such concerns.

Prescription deliveries

Prescription deliveries are also impacted by the circumstances of COVID-19. The OCP has provided pharmacists with guidance regarding the provision of prescriptions to individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19. This guidance has addressed protocols for signature requirements, appropriate dispensing, and the prevention of loss and/or theft of medications. In some cases, patients may allege that they did not receive their medications. Alternatively, members of the public might allege that they witnessed pharmacy personnel failing to abide with social distancing protocols when delivering medications.

Technology implications

The OCP has provided guidance to pharmacists regarding the receipt of prescriptions via email as a temporary method during the exceptional circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. Complaints may arise relating to privacy and confidentiality concerns relating to less secure methods of transmitting personal health information. Similarly, pharmacists providing remote virtual care services should be aware of the possibility of complaints pertaining to privacy and confidentiality concerns, as well as general standard of care issues.

General complaints

Throughout this situation, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians will still be vulnerable to the same kind of complaints that may otherwise have been made at any time, including complaints regarding consent and communication, standards of care, and billings.

 Conclusion

Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians should carefully consider their actions during the coming weeks, and should continue to prioritize health and safety in accordance with the guidelines of the OCP and the requirements imposed by the Ontario government. It may be prudent for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to contact legal counsel who are experienced in the area of professional regulation to help them with any legal questions at this time. In cases in which formal complaints are filed with the OCP, retaining a lawyer as soon as possible can assist pharmacists and pharmacy technicians in navigating through the regulatory process. In these uncertain times, it is important that pharmacists and pharmacy technicians take every situation seriously and respond accordingly.

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